Australia Had Fewer Deaths Than Expected in 2020, Says New AIHW Report

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“The First year of COVID-19 in Australia,” a report by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW) reviewed the direct and indirect effects of the Covid-19 pandemic on overall health in 2020.

The report uncovered some statistics that while welcome, was quite surprising. For example, mortality among GPs and doctors, in general, was lower than in the previous five years (the pre-pandemic era).

According to the report, the decline and mortality rate is “statistically significant” and can be attributed to a decrease in deaths due to respiratory diseases like influenza.

Interestingly, Covid measures aren’t the only factors responsible for this decline because other unrelated diseases like cancer and dementia also had lower death rates as compared to the previous years. According to Dr Lynelle Moon, an AIHW spokesperson, “there are some quite significant, more positive impacts of all the restrictions'' and the report “shows the impact that the social restrictions had on some other health challenges.”

The report also suggests that Telehealth had a lot of positive contributions as medical practitioners would have been unable to keep up with the required care for people with chronic conditions. Specifically, there was a 16% bump in the performance of services for review of care compared to 2019.

The number of injuries and deaths associated with outdoor-related activity also fell, including road traffic accidents and falls. And while Medicare items for chronic disease management fell at the beginning of the pandemic, they rose to normal levels towards the end of the year.

Unfortunately, it’s not all good news as the AIHW reports increased levels of mental distress in adults between 18 and 45. Figures also show that people in lower socioeconomic groups were several times more likely to be affected, with up to four times more deaths recorded in these groups.

According to Dr Moon, these inequalities are due to several factors, none of which is an over-representation of the group relative to others.

You can read the full report on the AIHW website

DOH Extends Image-Based Prescribing till Year’s End

Image-based prescribing was introduced at the start of the pandemic to supplement Telehealth until electronic prescriptions could take over. And while the DOH previously indicated that the practice would end in September, new announcements state that it will extend till the end of the year.

“Given electronic prescribing is now widely available, the decision to extend image-based prescribing is to provide an emergency option for exceptional circumstances where electronic prescribing or other mechanisms cannot be used.”

Even though electronic prescribing is on the rise - currently about 500,000 prescriptions every week - GPs stress that it’s not quite ready to fully replace image-based prescribing. This is especially true since there isn’t widespread adoption of the Active Script List yet.

According to Dr Nathan Pinskier, RACGP Expert Committee - Practice Technology and Management member, “the challenge is that there are still a number of practices that have not adopted the new token-based prescription system.” He believes that there aren’t any strong reasons to discontinue image-based prescriptions at this point.

“...If you move into the rest of the sector, adoption outside general practice, specialties and other prescribers will be very low. That would be my assumption… you have to have clinical software to be able to do electronic prescribing, and lots of providers don’t.”

Read: Is this the most remote private GP clinic in Australia?

TGA Restricts Oral Prescriptions of Ivermectin for Covid-19

GPs can now only prescribe Ivermectin for specific TGA-approved indications like scabies and some parasitic infections. However, specialists like dermatologists and haematologists will be able to prescribe the drug in situations they judge appropriate.

The TGA ban comes after there was a marked increase in the rate of prescriptions over the past couple of months (up to 3 or 4 times the regular rate). According to the TGA, “these changes have been introduced because of concerns with the prescribing of oral Ivermectin for the claimed prevention or treatment of Covid-19.”

“[It] is not approved for use in Covid-19 in Australia or in other developed countries and its use by the general public … is currently strongly discouraged by the National Covid Clinical Evidence Task Force, the World Health Organisation and the US Food and Drug Administration.”

The TGA further advised people to ignore the misinformation currently being spread on social media and other unreliable sources. “The doses of ivermectin that are being advocated for use [across unreliable platforms] for Covid-19 are significantly higher than those approved and found safe for scabies,” it said.

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